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‘Morbius’ Director Daniel Espinosa Talks ‘Personal’ Film ‘Madame Luna,’ Set to Premiere at IFFR Amid Lawsuit: ‘I Hope All Parties Involved Will Be Heard’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Daniel Espinosa’s “Madame Luna,” about an Eritrean refugee-turned-people smuggler — which premieres at the International Film Festival Rotterdam — is facing legal turmoil. According to filmmaker Binyam Berhane, it’s based on his original story and research.

“I am very saddened to hear these accusations towards the movie and genuinely hope that all parties that are involved in this will be heard,” Espinosa tells Variety.

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“I sincerely hope Binyam Berhane is well, I’ve only heard good things about him and he is a very talented documentary director. What I can express is a genuine trust in the producers and the production company Momento Film, and I hope this clears up for everyone involved.”

As per Deadline, the $2 million lawsuit is directed at Momento Film, Rhea Films and Hercules Film Fund.

“It is surprising to read Binyam Berhane’s version of events. At this time, we must refrain from commenting in detail, but his claims that his rights have been violated are false. We will of course dispute his claim,” adds Momento Film’s David Herdies.

Espinosa, also behind Marvel’s “Morbius,” Jake Gyllenhaal starrer “Life” and “Safe House,” describes “Madame Luna” as a “personal” film.

“I have this disease: I love making movies. If someone calls and asks if I want to make an actioner with Denzel Washington, I have a hard time saying no. But only a few have been really personal and ‘Luna’ is one of them,” he says.

The trailer premieres here:

“All the movies I’ve done — at least the ones that I like — are about sacrifice. About getting to the point when it seems you can’t be forgiven anymore. But is there a chance to become a different human being? I have committed many sins, especially in my youth. I can sympathize with a woman who tries to hide her past,” he adds, echoing famous words by “Madame Bovary” author Gustave Flaubert.

“Luna, in a sense, is me.”

Making a smaller film was “liberating,” he says.

“It was wonderful to be able to direct without having to listen to all these opinions. I have been a part of the system where you have 10, 12 people behind the monitors. The room is filled with anxiety, everyone worries they won’t get their money back. It’s so easy to lose track of what’s important.”

Espinosa thought about “Taxi Driver” when making the film.

“When I look at this woman, I see Travis Bickle, not some ‘poor lamb.’ When you make your characters too angelic, you infantilize them. It’s patronizing. I come from a family of immigrants — creating manipulative stories about refugees is cynical and backwards. When people think the movie itself is a ‘good deed,’ that’s just bullshit,” he says.

“We came to Sweden during the Chilean coup d’état. My uncle was killed, my father was tortured and it affected us too. I wasn’t listening to voices saying ‘there are enough refugee stories.’ Most of the films we have now are about superheroes and people who can fly. Maybe we should stop making those?”

Almaz a.k.a. Madame Luna (Meninet Abraha Teferi) has always thought about survival, he says. But she gets to the point when it’s no longer enough.

“The most beautiful thing one can do is to commit an act that’s selfless. In ‘Easy Money’ [with Joel Kinnaman] he loses his soul. That’s his sacrifice. Luna makes a different choice.”

Next, Espinosa will turn to “The Helicopter Heist,” about a real-life robbery that took place in Sweden.

“Some friends of mine were involved in it. When they got out, they wanted me to do it. I refused, because they wanted to do it in the U.S. and it’s a very Swedish robbery. In the U.S., they would just shoot the helicopter down,” he says.

“I never dreamt of going to America. When I got ‘Safe House,’ I turned it down. They asked who would change my mind and I mentioned the best actor I could imagine: Denzel. And then he said yes.”

“Most directors don’t belong in the U.S.: it’s a tough society and a tough business. Only a few have what it takes to survive it. I don’t think Europeans should strive to go there. They should do what my great colleague Ruben [Östlund] did: He stayed, making movies he wanted to make. And look at him now.”

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